Suspicious Death of Iranian Returnee
The tragic fate of a non-recognized Iranian asylum seeker in the Netherlands, after his return to Iran, is a stain on the international system of refugee protection. In view of his suspicious death, countries which undertake deportation of Iranians must reconsider their policy.
The Dutch policy of deporting non-recognized Iranian asylum seekers, which officially started on January 1995, has, in part, been based on the government's purported "monitoring" of returnees by the Dutch embassy in Tehran. Several other western governments, which undertake deportations, although not claiming to have a monitoring program, have maintained that they are capable of verifying the fate of Iranians after their return to Iran.
The Iranian Refugees' Alliance, has been continuously pointing to the incredulity of these claims because any kind of monitoring in Iran is impracticable. The Iranian government has systematically prevented any sort of independent investigation on matters related to violation of human rights. There are no independent human rights organizations in Iran and international investigators such as the UN Special Representative and Amnesty International delegates continue to be denied access to the country. Finally, most returnees are not willing to disclose any human rights violations which they may face after their return due to fear of retaliation against themselves and their families.
Despite these obvious obstacles, until recently, the Dutch authorities ostensibly insisted that their embassy in Tehran had a "monitoring" system for the returned Iranians and had verified that none of the returnees have faced any problems after returning to Iran from the Netherlands. However, in October 1997, representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs admitted that the Dutch embassy in Tehran had stopped "monitoring" the situation of returnees about a year ago.
Shortly after this admission, the Dutch press reported the tragic fate of one Iranian who disappeared one week after his return and was subsequently found buried in a cemetery.
DEATH OF IRANIAN RETURNEE IS SUSPICIOUS
De Volkskrant 11.12.1997
The body of Reza Hashemy who died after returning to Iran from the Netherlands has marks of serious injuries and wounds. Investigation about the circumstances of his death continues. This was said on Wednesday by the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the Lower House of the Parliament. As a matter of policy, the cause of Reza Hashemy's death will be investigated carefully. If it is proven that he was killed by the Iranian government because he sought asylum abroad this could be enough reason to halt all deportations. Since last month Mrs. Schmitz, the State Secretary of Justice, halted deportation of Iranians and is waiting for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' new report on Iran's human rights situation.
Hashemy returned to Iran voluntarily after his asylum claim was rejected, this was said by the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Patijn. The Dutch Embassy in Tehran has learned that Hashemy died on June 30, 1996 and was buried on July 17.
Reza Hashemy left his wife and child and fled to the Netherlands in 1994. His refugee file was closed in 1995 and by 1996 he was put in deportation proceedings. Facing his inevitable removal by the Dutch authorities, Hashemy decided to return voluntarily to Iran. His voluntary act protected him from direct contact with the Iranian embassy, as people who are forcibly returned are taken to the Iranian embassy by the Dutch authorities in order to obtain a "laissez passer" travel document.
According to his friends in Dordrecht refugee camp, when Hashemy signed his voluntary return papers he was psychologically unstable. He suffered from insomnia. He appeared aloof and preferred solitude. He said that he was getting one step closer to death each day. He was no more the intelligent and gentle person we knew before. He was only the ghost of Hashemy.
Two weeks after he returned to Iran, someone informed his friends in the Netherlands that he had disappeared one week after he went home. After a while a worker in a laboratory found his identity papers. He contacted Hashemy's family. He informed them about the documents, but said that he had not seen Hashemy's body. Subsequently, Hashemy's relatives went to the Behesht Zahra cemetery. There they found his grave stone.
Iranian authorities claimed that Hashemy died in an accident. They claimed that his name was published in a newspaper but because no one responded they buried him. However, further investigation revealed that Hashemy's name was not written correctly in the news-paper notice which the government authorities posted. This was odd because the Iranian authorities had Hashemy's identity documents. Moreover, his name was engraved correctly on the stone at his burial site. It also was strange that in the newspaper notification, Hashemy's photograph was not printed. It is common to print the photograph of the deceased in such notifications for identification of the relatives.
As reported by the Dutch media, the Dutch embassy in Tehran has so far confirmed the suspicious circumstances of Hashemy's death and the possibility of him being subjected to torture prior to his death.
Although the Dutch authorities have said that investigations of the circumstances of Hashemy's death would continue, there have been no more reports of any such investigations. Heshemy is not the only unresolved case brought to the attention of the Dutch authorities. For example, at the same time, another Iranian returnee, Siavosh Mohammadi was also reported to be arrested and detained immediately after his deportation to Iran.
Hashemy's tragic fate should sound a clarion call to all countries to halt all deportations of Iranian asylum seekers. It calls into question the quality of the refugee protection systems in which people like Hashemy are not recognized as refugees. Clearly these systems need to be scrutinized for compliance with international law. Dramatic reform is needed. (Media reports: Trouw 4 & 7, November 1997)